Optimizing a brick-and-mortar retail store to manage ship-from-store processes is a complex and intricate task. One of the biggest hurdles is training and motivating retail sales staff to accurately fulfill online orders. These employees are hired to assist customers in person and most likely don’t have training in picking, packing and shipping inventory.
To successfully implement ship-from-store fulfillment, retailers need a well-trained and highly motivated staff that can execute sales on- and offline. Here are four important tips for building a staff that will support ship-from-store.
Think (and Staff) Ahead
If you anticipate a greater demand for shipping, bolster your ship-from-store operations by staffing up. Bringing in dedicated support for picking, packing and shipping can help offset training time and concerns about commissions for your regular sales staff.
Train Your Staff on Fulfillment
Adding in-store fulfillment for online orders calls for a different skill set than that of a customer-facing sales team. Develop reference materials like booklets and posters, and use them as part of ongoing training programs to help employees performing fulfillment functions implement easy-to-follow processes. Training should include:
Train your staff to pick products for online orders in the most efficient way. This is best done in batches when in-store customer traffic is low, like before the store opens, after it closes or during slow periods throughout the day. Scheduling it during these time periods will cut down on in-store distractions that slow down the picking process. Having staff members assigned to either fulfillment or customer sales also makes picking easier to implement without hurting the customer experience.
Next, you’ll need to teach your staff the proper way to pack items. Create a dedicated packing station that is stocked with all the right tools—boxes, envelopes, fill material, scissors, tape—and that displays instructions for properly packing items to ship. It is considered best practice to use consistent packaging across fulfillment channels to avoid any issues. If a product is improperly packed, it could be damaged, lost or delayed, causing a customer to ultimately lose trust in your store.
Shipping time is a huge factor in customer satisfaction. Develop a process that takes into account pickup times and also ensures that employees check off all the necessary steps before sending. For example, a package being shipped internationally would need different paperwork and postage than a local one.
Provide Emotional Motivation
Adjusting to ship-from-store standards and processes can be taxing for everyday sales employees. They may see the addition of fulfillment as losing productive hours and commissions or feel underappreciated and overworked. In your orientations and trainings, make sure to address these emotional pain points—transparency and reassurance helps show your appreciation for your hardworking staff.
Provide Financial Motivation
Hand in hand with emotional motivation comes financial motivation. If your employees are worried about losing in-store sales, adjust your commission structure to fit the new ship-from-store strategy. Bring ordering technology into the store with laptops or eCommerce apps that employees are trained to use. This will improve the experience of a customer who can’t find what they need in person, and will help your sales staff seamlessly close deals for products bought online.
Implementing a ship-from-store process in your brick-and-mortar stores requires understanding and participation from employees. Transparency along with robust, ongoing training for staff members can help any store optimize its new fulfillment strategy.
More and more store owners are turning to a ship-from-store fulfillment strategy, leveraging in-store inventory and shipping directly from their retail locations. There are many potential benefits to this method: fewer markdowns, improved asset utilization and, with stores shipping to nearby customers, lower costs and quicker delivery times. But it takes detailed planning and effort to make the transition seamlessly. Here, we take you through the five all-important steps to turning your stores into effective distribution centers.
Make Your Inventory Status Transparent
Creating system-wide inventory visibility is the first step to implementing in-store fulfillment. This will allow you to have the right product available in the right locations at the right time. Assess your current inventory management system and make sure it can track and reallocate products when needed. If you have multiple systems in place across stores and distribution centers, integrate your inventory management to ensure that your inventory is visible across channels. This is essential for managing consumer demand and keeping orders moving efficiently.
Define Which Stores Will Turn Into Distribution Centers
Next, you’ll have to choose which stores will double as fulfillment centers. This is critical to success. It’s important to note: not all of your physical locations need to answer your fulfillment needs. Focus on converting larger stores that have both the backroom space and a sizable amount of inventory. This will ensure that there’s enough supply in stock and enough space to manage it. Also consider the locations of the stores. Use data from past sales to see which regions order the most and could benefit from having a fulfillment center nearby. Fulfilling orders from a store in proximity to a large number of customers means shorter delivery times and lower-cost deliveries.
Choose stores that also have inventory-management technology that will allow you to catalog products correctly and have orders fulfilled in a timely way. Be sure at least one of your stores fulfills these characteristics before starting to ship from store.
Organize Your In-Store Distribution Center
Typical distribution centers have streamlined processes in place for picking, packing and shipping. Mirror the process on a smaller level in your stores, so that products are handled and packaged just as professionally as in your traditional distribution centers, and you create efficient shipping practices. Not to mention, your customers will be provided with the same standout experience regardless of where the product is shipped, so they can expect consistent branding and packaging with their order.
Some employees may not see fulfilling online orders as their main priority, sending out poorly wrapped and packaged orders. Train them in the picking, packing and shipping process, and make sure your in-store distribution center is organized efficiently so that employees can consistently meet your packaging and wrapping standards.
Set Up a Product Return System
Easy returns are critically important to customers. Set up a return system that works for you and your customers. Determine whether orders should be returned in person to stores or shipped back to stores or distribution centers. Then set clear guidelines about mail-only or in-store returns and communicate them clearly to your customers.
Retrain Your Staff
When you add distribution to the list of items your employees are responsible for, you will have to retrain your staff on new procedures and challenges. Some employees may be resistant to being tasked with supporting online sales in addition to their main in-store responsibilities. To motivate commission-based employees, consider offering incentives to help ensure buy-in or adjusting your commission structure to fit the ship-from-store strategy.
In some cases, it might be beneficial to hire additional staff to handle in-store fulfillment and train them specifically for that purpose. Naturally, their performance would be measured differently than that of commission-based employees, allowing for a higher degree of control, quality and accountability.
If you prepare your space, adapt your in-store procedures and work with your employees for a smooth transition, you can begin shipping from store and see the potential benefits to your bottom line and in your customer satisfaction. You’ll not only utilize your inventory more efficiently, but also be able to get items out the door faster and at lower cost.